Quality Assurance is a much misunderstood term, even in professional circles, it is generally incorrectly used. This short course aims to provide a thorough understanding into what Quality Assurance really means.
What is the Importance of Quality Assurance? So, Quality Assurance is important because it is about ensuring how something is done (the process) and how effective those involved in how the process is completed (the people) are.
The role of Quality Assurance is generally used incorrectly and the reason for using the term Quality Assurance (QA as it is more commonly known) incorrectly is down to people not really understanding what it means.
Quality Assurance is generally confused with other terms from the world of ensuring quality.
"We need to QA this product to see that it works as expected".
"If there are any faults with this product, they will come to light when we check it during QA".
Both sentences above use the term Quality Assurance incorrectly. Without knowing what Quality Assurance is, it’s difficult then to understand what the role is. The following information provides a good grounding in understanding QA.
Quality Assurance is about process and those involved with the process, that is the people doing the processes. Process is about how something is done and involves the steps involved in doing something.
There are so many processes involved in everyday life and it's these processes that can be improved using Quality Assurance.
Some common examples of everyday processes are:
• driving a car;
• setting the video cassette recorder to record a program;
• setting the microwave to cook.
When driving a car, the process to drive off involves:
1. starting the engine;
2. pressing the clutch;
3. putting the car into the correct gear;
4. releasing the parking brake (handbrake);
5. letting the clutch out and pressing accelerator.
These steps taken in the above order will lead to the car moving.
Do this process differently and the results may not allow the car to be driven. If the car is put in gear before using the clutch, then the car will stall. If the clutch is released and the accelerator pressed without starting the engine, the car isn't going to move.
• The correct process order produces the correct result.
A baker needs to bake hundreds of cakes every day. The process involved for one of the cakes the baker produces is:
1. Get 100 grams of flour;
2. Add 5 ounces of water;
3. Add 3 egg whites;
4. Mix together;
5. Bake at 230 degrees for 33 minutes.
Now if this process produced a cake that was very tasty then in a Quality Assurance perspective the process is assured. As long as this process is adhered to, tasty cakes will be made.
Repeating this process over and over again will produce consistently good tasty cakes.
If the process breaks down and the wrong measure of ingredients is used or the wrong cooking time is set, then the quality of cakes will not match the cakes produced which are consistent with the correct process.
• A consistent proven process is essential for Quality Assurance.
There's little point in having the best processes when staff are incapable of carrying out those processes on a consistent level.
With the example earlier of the baker, if a new person is employed by the baker to measure and mix the ingredients, their impact on the process to bake tasty cakes needs to be checked, otherwise the quality of cakes produced will suffer.
Quality Assurance is therefore also concerned with the effectiveness of people involved in the process.
• The effectiveness of the people involved in the processes is an essential part of Quality Assurance.
Consider a furniture retailer, who takes hundreds of orders each day. The process to ensure that each of the orders is delivered has been Quality Assured.
So when an order is taken, the following steps occur as shown on the next page in Screenshot 1.
1. Product code entered into stock checking system;
2. If stock is available it is marked as sold causing the inventory of stock to be updated;
3. Delivery time and the delivery driver are allocated;
4. Despatch note is sent to warehouse staff to move the product from warehouse to the despatch area;
5. Despatch note is sent to the lorry driver with details of the product, delivery address and the product pick up point;
6. Product is loaded onto the lorry;
7. Product is delivered to customer where the customer signature confirms that the delivery has been made;
8. Copy of the delivery note is sent to despatch where it is updated on the computer system.
With such sophisticated technology, the order can be taken, stock checked, delivery dates set, individual driver's delivery schedules calculated and so on. Leading to this process being repeated consistently for any order.
However, if the driver for example used isn't up to scratch and the order gets delayed, delivered to the wrong address, damaged and so on. The whole process fails to deliver.
This means that the delivery process doesn't meet the needs of Quality Assurance as it fails to deliver the product.
What happens if the quality of the materials used to make a product aren't consistent?
Maybe the wrong batch of wood is used to make furniture or the ingredients in a cake use eggs that are out of date?
Both scenarios would lead to the products that could not be classed as quality products. It is therefore essential to ensure that the process not only covers what is done to make a product but also the quality of the components, materials and so on which are used in the process.
Anything to do with process must be assured for Quality and that includes the materials used to make the products.
As products become more complex the likelihood of things going wrong and affecting quality increases.
Everyday things we take for granted only fulfil our expectations because they have been through some form of quality assessment.
Objects such as:
- Alarm clocks which correctly display time and sound the alarm to the exact hour and minute it is set for;
- Toasters which will toast bread for 3 minutes as set and not burn the toast into a charcoal mess;
- Microwave ovens which will cook a bowl of beans within thirty seconds instead of cooking the innards of the person using the microwave;
- Traffic lights that change colour according to traffic flow instead of sticking on red and causing complete gridlock;
- Train doors that open only when the train is stationary at a station instead of opening when the training is moving;
All these products mentioned above work because they have been through some form of quality assessment. The quality assessment methods used may vary from product to product but essentially involve similar principles.
Quality assessments are done to ensure the products are fit for the purpose they were designed for.
It must be the mission of any organisation to produce products or services of the highest quality and Quality Assurance is important in trying to do this. Quality in itself can not only help sell more products but more importantly can reduce losses.
Losses are the bane of the corporate world and can quickly wipe out profits. The last thing any organisation would want is to end up losing all their profits.
There are a number of losses that could be encountered including:
1. Loss of revenue and ultimately profit.
Organisations are under intense pressure by their owners and shareholders to consistently produce more and more profits. Any reduction in profit will simply not be tolerated. To increase profits, an organisation must increase its revenue and reduce its costs.
If a product fails to meet the expectations of the market then this product will not produce revenue as anticipated and the costs of remedying will increase, leading to a drop in potential profit.
Worse still, if the product has to be recalled, the costs involved could run into millions, seriously denting organisation profitability. No wonder the words 'product recall' strike fear in many a corporate boardroom.
2. Losses due to litigation.
Organisations are all too aware of the implications of being sued should their products fail to meet expectations. The costs of fighting a law suit can be very demanding, even on the largest of corporates and this must be avoided at all costs.
3. Loss of reputation, image and/or brand.
In an era when the media is king, anything that can create news irrespective of it being bad or good, is marketable. Organisations spend millions on Public Relations (PR) to ensure that their organisation is always seen in a good light. A few rash words about the quality of a product, can in the extreme destroy an empire.
4. Losses from regulatory bodies.
Many industries and territories are governed by bodies that ensure that organisations adhere to certain standards and regulations. If these standards and regulations are not met then penalties may be enforced and restrictions applied.
5. Loss of human life.
The greatest loss of all is the loss of human life. Selling products that fail causing loss of life can lead to substantial costs in compensation claims.
In certain jurisdictions, corporate manslaughter legislation has been brought in to ensure that directors can be liable for deaths caused by faults in their products.
This has put an enormous amount of pressure on organisations and their directors to ensure that their products are safe.
In a world of mass production, it is essential that Quality Assurance is utilised effectively to keep the quality of products consistent.
Quality Assurance can seem intimidating as it covers so many aspects of producing products. From the people involved, the processes used to the quality of raw materials and components.
However Quality Assurance is an essential part of making sure that things are fit for purpose they were designed for and safe to use.
Reliability is generally viewed as an indicator of quality. It would be unfair to assume that this is the only indicator. Whilst reliability can be a good indicator of the quality of a product other factors can be far more important.
A car which had an impeccable reliability record and always came in the top ten for reliability surveys, hid a lethal secret.
During medium to heavy frontal impacts, the chances of walking away were next to nil.
The car's front simply disintegrated upon impact leading to severe injuries to the driver and passengers.
Whilst this vehicle produced exceptional revenue streams for the manufacturer.
The losses from the injuries and fatalities produced from frontal impacts wiped out the profit.
The manufacturer had to make quality improvements to ensure that the vehicle's profits were not further decimated by losses from litigation.
By improving the design, introducing crumple zones and assessing the effectiveness of changes made, the manufacturer increased the quality of the vehicle from more than just being incredibly reliable.
• Mission of any organisation is to produce quality products.
• Quality products can reduce potential losses and help sell more products.
• Greatest loss of all is human life, which must be avoided at all costs.
• Reliability is not a guaranteed indicator of quality.
• Consistent proven processes are essential for Quality Assurance.
• The effectiveness of people involved in the processes is just as important as the process itself.
• The quality of the components used in a process must also be assessed.
What is the difference of QA and QC? QA, Quality Assurance is about the processes and the people involved whilst QC, Quality Control is about whether what’s produced is as expected and meets the requirements.
Is QA a test or QC? QA, Quality Assurance is a test but only for checking the processes and how the people involved with the processes are effective. QC, Quality Control is a test on checking what’s produced is what’s expected.
Which is better Quality Control or Quality Assurance? Both Quality Assurance and Quality Control are needed. Quality Assurance is needed to make sure the consistency of production is maintained and Quality Control is needed to ensure the production produces what’s was expected. Without Quality Assurance what’s produced could be inconsistent and the Quality Control will end up rejecting more production. However, getting Quality Assurance right, will lead in more Quality Control acceptance of production.